It was 5 p.m. The awards ceremony was for the entire district, but my school’s party was not supposed to start until 7. I asked what we would do until then. My teachers said we would go somewhere and sit. We went to a bar/restaurant and had a beer (miraculously, a stout—Happy Teachers’ Day, indeed) and, strangely, a single boiled egg. After sitting around for a while, we left for the fancy restaurant where our party would be. Our department (foreign language) commandeered an entire corner of the room away from others, which was probably for the best since we can get rowdy. There was a band formed of miners (again, playing brass instruments). They played for a while and we sat around and talked and drank juice. This party, I was told, was going to be dry. That’s right. A Mongolian party without alcohol. None at all.
So we were sitting at our table, hanging out, when another awards ceremony started. Several of my teachers received awards. And then, my shining moment of glory: our volleyball team was called up to receive our winnings from the tournament held a few weeks earlier. Hand in hand, we ran forward cheering. Our stoic school director shook my hand and told me congratulations. We took a picture and carried our prize back to our table. And then it was over, and I was hungry. The food hadn’t come yet, so everyone decided to dance.
Dancing in Mongolia is a funny thing. First, it is not usually your choice to start. Second, you may only dance in one way: a circle. “Sara, you will dance now.” “No, I think I will sit here and drink this aloe juice. Mmm.” “No. Dance now.” So I was grabbed by the wrist and inserted into the circle. Knees were bending in rhythm to some Jennifer Lopez song, I’m sure. The circle dance: everyone moves the same, and everyone watches each other. If you’re lucky, you are under the bright, romantic fluorescent lights of a restaurant like we were. At about that time, one of our female gym teachers, Buya, dances up to me and puts her jacket around me, enticing me into a strange mirror dance. Thankful that the song ended, I sneak back to my seat.
Our food finally came. We had chicken. What a treat! While everyone was seated for dinner, gifts were given to the teachers who were given awards. They received a variety of presents: money, chocolates, vodka. Hello, loophole. So that is how our dry party became very vodka-infused, very fast. Bottle after bottle of Chingiss Gold was finished. We danced again. The shot glasses followed us to the dance floor (literally, glasses). We sang terrible English music really loudly. I pretended to know the words to Mongolian songs. When the chorus to “Zaya” came, I sang “Zaya, zaya, zaya” as loud as my counterparts did, arms resting on each other’s shoulders. “Forever, forever, forever” and we swayed back and forth. Buya came back and grabbed me, dragging me rather forcefully away from my friends who held on to me and yelled at her to stop and let me go. I felt protected. I taught my teachers to swing dance. Then I taught my manager. An 11th grader showed up to sing a Michael Buble love song as congratulations to his teacher who won an award. I was asked why I didn’t know the words to this English song.
The night was winding down. It must have been close to midnight and time to leave. I was looking around pathetically for full bottles of juice to take home. One of my teachers brought me an apple to put in my pocket, knowing they are expensive. We picked up our coats from the front room and headed into the cold. Arm in arm, we stumbled together through the streets, planning which teachers to take home first, gossiping along the way. My department was the last to leave. Alta and I, living in the same building, split from the group and took a shortcut through a park home. I got home about 12 hours after I had originally left for this Teachers’ Day Celebration. It was a lot of fun to take time to celebrate all the educators in my town. Special recognition was given to all of the great accomplishments made by those who have worked so hard, and I think that recognition for teachers can sometimes be overlooked. I am lucky to be living here in a culture that values and respects teachers so much.
I had a great first Mongolian Teachers’ Day, even though I forgot to bring my camera to document it. Tuesday was also a very special day in my life back home. My brother and his wife had their first son only about an hour before I had to leave for the awards ceremony. I got to Skype home to them while they were still at the hospital. I feel so blessed to have been able to be a part of such an important day. So here’s a picture of my brand new nephew! Isn't he perfect? Congratulations, y’all!